By EDWARD EPSTEIN
San Francisco Chronicle
June 21, 2006
The nonbinding measure doesn't set any numerical goal for withdrawal this year and doesn't set a deadline for all of the 130,000 U.S. military personnel in the country to leave. By adopting such wording, the resolution sponsored by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., and co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., seeks to avoid the Republican criticism that Democrats advocate a "cut and run" policy in Iraq.
But the Senate measure, the result of long negotiations among the Senate's divided Democrats, doesn't go as far as the House proposal of Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the longtime military hawk who has proposed a six-month timetable for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq. Another measure will be introduced this week in the Senate by two other Democrats, Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, which would require all U.S. combat forces to be withdrawn from Iraq by July 2007.
"The change of policy we call for is significant," Levin said. "The current administration policy - that we will stay as long as the Iraqis need us - will result in the Iraqis depending on us longer."
"This amendment is not about 'cut and run.' This is about getting the president to do the job properly," Reed said.
The Levin-Reed amendment, in addition to calling for a withdrawal to begin, asks President Bush to submit a plan to Congress by the end of this year giving the estimated dates of future withdrawals.
The Senate action, part of the deliberations over the $515 billion military authorization bill, comes a week after the House engaged in a daylong debate over a Republican resolution that placed the war in Iraq in the context of the global war on terrorism. The resolution, which also praised the resolve of the Iraqi people to fight terror and establish a democracy, and commended the U.S. troops, passed 256-153.
Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said passage of his resolution would send a strong signal to the president that his Iraq policy must change. "If we can succeed in getting this amendment passed we succeed in getting this turned around in a very significant way," he said.
Similar sentiments were expressed last year when both houses of Congress passed a nonbinding resolution stating that 2006 should be a year of significant transition in Iraq, in which Iraqi forces are supposed to take over more of the fighting. So far, that has happened only in a limited way.
Bush has said repeatedly that deadlines for withdrawal would defeat U.S. goals in Iraq by allowing insurgents and terrorists to wait out the U.S. presence. He says U.S. forces will remain as long as Iraq needs them, but not longer.
"Iraqis must seize this moment - and we will help them succeed," Bush said Monday in a speech at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. Referring to his surprise visit to Baghdad last week, he added, "I assured the prime minister that when America gives a commitment, America will keep its word."
Last week Republicans pushed to a floor vote a previous Kerry amendment that called for all U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2006. The measure failed 93-6.
Both new Democratic proposals in the Senate call for putting some of the withdrawn forces elsewhere in the Middle East as a rapid deployment force. They also call for an international conference to help the Iraqis work out a domestic political settlement.
"The Bush administration has not told the Iraqis a critical fact - we cannot stay there in an open-ended way," Levin said.
In a joint statement, Kerry and Feingold said, "With the administration's failure to offer a coherent or effective strategy in Iraq, it is long past time for Congress to offer a plan to redeploy our troops so we can give Iraq its best chance at stability, and refocus on al Qaeda and the terrorist networks that threaten the security of all Americans."
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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